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Experience seen as deciding factor for Wills

It was experience and an early push that helped Ruben Wills win Thomas White’s vacated City Council seat, according to those political experts who followed the race.

Corey Bearak, a consultant who has frequently worked for Democratic candidates causes, said the councilman-elect beat out his six opponents because he was one of the first to start campaigning when the city announced the non-partisan special election in August following White’s death.

Wills, who used to work for Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica), had another advantage by using his years on the political scene as a key component for his campaign, according to Bearak.

“Ruben has seen the advantage of running or having a role in running in elections in the area, so he had a better experience putting a team together. He was not an unknown quantity to some of those people,” he said.

The winner’s main competition was Nicole Paultre-Bell, the fiancée of police shooting victim Sean Bell, who did not have any political experience before the election but was active in the community following the 2006 death of her high school sweetheart. Bearak said name recognition was strong, but her campaign did not do enough to get her message across.

“A new person who is promising can do well, but you don’t always have the team that can elect you,” he said.

Paultre-Bell could not be reached for comment as of press time Tuesday.

Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton), who endorsed Paultre-Bell, said he congratulated Wills for his victory and looked forward to working with him in City Hall. As for Paultre-Bell, the councilman said he did not think she would be running for political office in the near future, but she would still be strong in her community activism.

Support was also reflected in the campaign’s purses, as Wills collected more than $95,000, nearly $70,000 of which came from public funds, and spent roughly $42,000 on his campaign, while Paultre-Bell collected nearly $12,000 and spent about $13,000, according to campaign finance records.

Wills won with 3,347 votes, 31.17 percent of the total vote, followed by Paultre-Bell, who had 2,721 votes, 25.34 percent of the total; Albert Baldeo, who had 1,512 votes, or 14.08 percent; Allan Jennings, who had 1,068 votes, or 9.95 percent); Charles Bilal, who had 925 votes, or 8.62 percent; Harpreet Singh Toor, who had 728 votes, or 6.78 percent; and Martha Taylor Butler, who had 436 votes, or 4.06 percent, according to unofficial results from the city Board of Elections.

Bearak said the large list of candidates mimicked that of a primary, but because it was attached to the general election, there was a larger turnout.

The two-month campaign also made headlines because of an apparent split between the elected officials in southeast Queens. While Wills had the backing of Huntley, Comrie, state Assemblywoman Vivian Cook (D-Jamaica) and others, Paultre-Bell had endorsements from U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) and Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton).

Meeks had come under scrutiny earlier this year for his involvement in the now-defunct New Directions Development Corp., which is under federal investigation for alleged misuse of public donations — however, a source said the split was more personal than political.

Wills had previously run against Meeks in the 2008 Democratic primary and there was still some bad blood between them, according to the source.

Evan Stavisky, a political consultant for the Parkside Group, said Wills would be a good fit for City Hall.

“He brings a great deal of experience and government involvement, so he should do a great job,” he said.

The political victory is far from the end for Wills because his term only lasts till next year. He will have to take part in another election next year to determine if he can serve out the rest of White’s term, which ends Dec. 31, 2013.

“It would be interesting to see how Ruben reaches out to the constituencies that didn’t support him to gain their trust,” Bearak said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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